New Zealand’s top health official stepped down on Thursday following a relatively minor scandal that shows the enormous difference in how the U.S. and other wealthy countries are dealing with the covid-19 pandemic.
New Zealand’s health minister, Dr. David Clark, announced his resignation after he mistakenly allowed two visitors from Britain—women who later tested positive for covid-19—to travel within the country to attend a funeral last month. By contrast, no one in the Trump administration has resigned or been fired for the American government’s repeated failures to control the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world.
“It has become increasingly clear to me that my continuation in the role is distracting from the government’s overall response to covid-19 and the global pandemic,” Clark said at a press conference in Wellington that was livestreamed on YouTube.
Two British sisters in their 30s and 40s landed in New Zealand in early June to visit a sick parent and were in the country’s 14-day quarantine—now required for all international visitors—when that parent died. The travelers applied for a special exemption to get out of quarantine and attend the funeral, which was granted by the Health Department before they could be tested for covid-19. When they eventually got sick and tested positive after the funeral, the lack of proper oversight turned into a national scandal in New Zealand.
New Zealand has identified just 1,530 cases and 22 deaths from covid-19 and has now eradicated the disease, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker, while the U.S. has seen over 2.86 million cases and more than 128,000 deaths. The U.S. recorded over 50,000 cases yesterday alone, a new record, according to the Covid-19 Tracking Project.
Depressingly, the only people who have lost their jobs at the federal and state level during the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. have been whistleblowers like vaccine expert Dr. Richard Bright at the Department of Health and Human Services and data scientist Rebekah Jones who worked for the state of Florida.
Bright told Congress he was forced out after not sufficiently promoting a drug called hydroxychloroquine that President Donald Trump had touted as a miracle to treat covid-19. Studies have shown that hydroxychloroquine may actually cause higher death rates in people with the new coronavirus. And Jones, who worked on Florida’s online coronavirus dashboard, says she was pushed out after refusing to manipulate public data in order to make the Florida pandemic look better than it actually was, according to an interview she gave NPR this week.
Previously, Dr. Clark was also criticized for taking a long, unauthorized bike ride with his family during lockdown back in April and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at the time that she would have fired him under normal circumstances, but she simply didn’t want any disruptions to the covid-19 response, according to Clark.
Compare that with President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly flouted his own government’s guidelines on everything from masks to mass gatherings, holding a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma last month that any normal president would have canceled. But this isn’t a normal president, to say the least, especially when you see Trump continue to make ridiculous claims about the pandemic.
“I think we’re going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope,” Trump told Fox Business Network in a softball interview on Wednesday.
Trump has repeatedly said that the virus would just disappear on its own, something that’s objectively not true. And states like Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida are experiencing a troubling surge in cases that will be felt for weeks, if not months, to come.
Arizona reported 4,878 new cases yesterday and 88 deaths, a one-day state record for both cases and deaths. Texas reported 8,076 new cases yesterday, and 57 deaths, a one-day record for cases, and the second-highest number of deaths in a day, second only to Texas’s May 14 tally of 58 deaths. Florida reported 6,563 new cases and 46 new deaths yesterday.
To top it all off, experts like former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb believe that the U.S. is probably identifying only about 10% of the actual number of covid-19 cases in the U.S. right now.
“The 40-50,000 infections we are diagnosing each day right now really represents 400-500,000 infections...” Gottlieb told CNBC on Wednesday. “Not all those people are symptomatic but probably 200-300,000 of them are symptomatic.”
There are dumb people in every country, and there are those in New Zealand and Germany and Australia, among countless others, who think the pandemic is a hoax involving 5G and Bill Gates in an attempt to vaccinate people against their will. But the New Zealand example shows that you don’t need to rely on the goodwill of individuals to do the right thing if you have real leadership at the top levels of government. All of those governments instituted a proper lockdown, scaled-up testing, and employed public health officials to set up a vast network of contact tracing.
Otherwise “reasonable” people often want to blame the coronavirus surge in the U.S. on idiots who are out in public refusing to wear a mask or otherwise acting irresponsibly. And while those people should certainly be shamed into wearing a mask, you can’t control a pandemic by putting the responsibility solely on individuals. There needs to be a coordinated response from the government, and when those leaders fail, as New Zealand Health Minister did, those people need to get pushed out.
Take a cue from New Zealand, President Trump. Resign and let the experts take the lead so that Americans can finally get out of this pandemic.